March 7, 2004 - Double Take Magazine: "Robert Fortier remained with us, but he was different after the Peace Corps. Heíd incorporated the culture of Mali. He also had taken a malaria drug, which had visual effects."

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mali: Peace Corps Mali : The Peace Corps in Mali: March 7, 2004 - Double Take Magazine: "Robert Fortier remained with us, but he was different after the Peace Corps. Heíd incorporated the culture of Mali. He also had taken a malaria drug, which had visual effects."

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"Robert Fortier remained with us, but he was different after the Peace Corps. Heíd incorporated the culture of Mali. He also had taken a malaria drug, which had visual effects."

"Robert Fortier remained with us, but he was different after the Peace Corps. Heíd incorporated the culture of Mali. He also had taken a malaria drug, which had visual effects."

The Blue Jay Feather

by Dermot Meagher

I bought my first drawing of a blue jay feather in 1978 at the Massachusetts College of Art Christmas fair. I bought another the next year at the same place without realizing Iíd bought the first. The third one started the collection, because I bought it conscious of the two before it.

And one day the next August, before his daily swim off the rocky beach at Jamestown, Rhode Island, my brother-in-law, Michael, drew a pastel of seashells, blue jay feathers, and stones that heíd found there. So, of course, I had to have that, too.

Later, at one of the early AIDS Support Group auctions, I bought two homemade wooden blue jays that had belonged to a friend who had just died.

In my backyard, the lord of the trees is the blue jay. There are lots of other birdsórobins, grackles, and sparrows, even sometimes a cardinalóbut the boss is the blue jay. Furthermore, it also seems that whenever Iím in trouble, I look up and thereís a blue jay.

Timmy, who takes care of my yard, says that each of us has a bird that is attached to us, that guides us. He says his is a crow. Tim said, "And yours must be the blue jay. You didnít know about this?"

I said that I didnít but that I was glad to know now. "However," I said, "I donít like to think of myself as quite as pushy as a blue jay."

"Well, maybe you are," said Timmy with that big smile as he walked away.

I dread mental health civil commitment cases. And this day there were two. They are always sad. The first one wasnít too hard to decide. The man was quite troubled. He had beaten up people on the street and beaten up the staff once he got to the hospital. It was his fifteenth commitment since he was eighteen.

Between the cases, when I walked out of the mental health centerís law library, which was being used as the hearing room but also served as a storage room and perhaps a lunchroom, there was a young man wearing a visitorís pass sitting in the hall. He was about five foot eight, kind of chunky, with thick black hair and a thin beard along the edge where he would have liked his jaw to be. I wondered who he was. I knew from the visitorís badge that he wasnít a patient. He didnít have a suit jacket on, so he probably wasnít a doctor to testify for the defense. And the stateís doctors didnít wear passes.

When I returned to the library, the respondent in the second case, Robert Fortier, was brought in. (All the names in this case have been changed, but the story is true.) He looked like the man in the hall, with thick black hair but no beard. He was very neatly dressed. His haircut was kind of old-fashioned, a pompadour, in fact, and his clothes were dated, too: a very neat plaid shirt and khaki pants, unlike the rumpled baggies worn by most of the young men I see in court. He looked around the room with no particular reaction, even after Marilyn McKay, the very experienced and professional clerk who had come down with me from the courthouse, called the case.

Two burly guards had come in with the respondent; the bigger one leaned forward onto the table and watched the hearing as though it were a tennis match.

The lawyer representing both patients that day was Albert Lehane. Mr. Lehane is a character; he works at being a character. Heís Irish, from Cambridge, and he went to Harvard on a special scholarship for local boys. Heís got a year or two on me, which puts him around sixty-one. He always talks about Harvard. Sometimes we make bets, the court officer, the clerk, and I, as to how many times heíll mention Harvard in any one conversation. During a three- or four- minute conversation, itís usually seven or eight times.

He also loves to play tennis and wonít let the court continue cases to certain days if he has matches planned for those days.

He often pulls a half-eaten apple out of his pocket and chaws on it. When he talks to you, he stands with his arms tightly crossed across his upper chest and gives you a puss.

Lehane thinks heís got me on two counts: Iím Irish and I went to Harvard as well. Anti-Irish Catholicism was the liberalsí anti-Semitism in our day, even among Catholics, many of whom would have had you believe theyíd just stepped out of Brideshead Revisited rather than Long Dayís

Journey into Night. Nevertheless, most of us Irish Catholics tended to feel the familiar bond of oppression at that secular, if no longer Protestant, school. But unlike Lehane, I wasnít in Pi Eta, the Irish-Catholic boysí club at Harvard of which Lehane was a member, although he assumes I was. Our lives must connect at some points, but not the ones he talks about.

And Lehane talks a lot. At first, it appears to be nonsense, but I suspect heís trying to find out what I "had for breakfast that day," as the jurisprudes say. There is a theory of jurisprudence that says what judges do in a case on any given day is dependent on what they had for breakfast, on their mood. According to the theory, there really is no ideology of decision making.

Anyway, although some people think heís too garrulous, Mr. Lehane was masterful in this case. (As Iím writing this, a blue jay has just appeared in the backyard. I can hardly believe it. Heís on the hammock chain. He likes that. Sometimes heís even on the chain when Iím in the hammock.)

The same doctor testified in both cases. "My name is Doctor Harold Wallace Harris," is how he introduced himself. (Funny, I didnít know Doctor was a first name.)

"The respondent, Robert Fortier, was found wandering around the Arsenal Mall with a patched suitcase, acting bizarrely," Doctor Harold Wallace Harris testified.

Harris gave no further description of the event that had led to Robert Fortierís confinement in this mental health center for the past month. From the Arsenal Mall, Mr. Fortier had been taken to a local hospital, and from there to the mental health center. He refused medications, refused an electroencephalogram, and refused psychological tests. One day, heíd been seen meditating over something heíd made in the centerís art therapy class, "as if it were a relic or some sacred object." Another time, Mr. Fortier was pacing the hall so rapidly that he had to be forcibly medicated with Risperdol, an antipsychotic drug. After that, he willingly took the drug and became more "responsive." The doctor believed that Mr. Fortier posed an "extreme risk of harm to himself" and that he was "nonresponsive to environmental cues," whatever that meant.

On cross-examination, the doctor admitted that Mr. Fortier had appeared to be too frightened to speak to the hospital staff. The doctor determined that Mr. Fortier had never been hospitalized before.

"Who wouldnít be frightened?" Mr. Lehane asked rhetorically. "Have you ever sat down with Mr. Fortier and talked to him for about an hour or so, like I did yesterday?"

The doctor responded with only slightly veiled agitation. "I have nine patients in four hours on Thursdays, and twenty-four patients on the unit. Some are very sick."

In the petition, the document that the doctor and the director of the hospital presented to the court to begin this proceeding, they requested that I order that Mr. Fortier be given forcibly, if he was not willing to take them voluntarily, Risperdol, Haldol, Ativan, Klonopin, and other medications, and that he be committed to the mental health center for six months.

The petitioners rested their case after Doctor Harris finished testifying.

Mr. Lehane asked to have the respondentís brother, Richard, come into the room to testify. He was the man I had seen in the hallway with the pencil-thin beard and the visitorís pass. I had suspected they were brothers when I first saw Robert, but I didnít know whose side Richard would be on; sometimes family members are seeking the commitment, and sometimes they have reason.

Richard testified that up until the previous July, Robert had made frequent visits to the family home, but had stopped coming by in August or September. Robert had then walked into a family christening in September, announced that he no longer wanted to have anything to do with the family, and left.

Throughout his testimony, the brother talked about "us," meaning his parents, his brother, and himself. It was obvious that there had been some closeness there and that the brother was saddened that it had been broken. Richard had gone to Robertís apartment to see him in early

November, but there had been no contact over the holidays.

"It was the first Thanksgiving without him," Richard said sadly.

According to Richard, something had been bothering Robert extremely.

On cross-examination, Richard said that Robert was the more sociable of the two brothers; that Robert had studied jujitsu; that when Robert went to college, he had partied the first year and not done too well; that he had been put on probation but then pulled himself together.

They had grown up in Texas and moved to Boston in 1980, Richard continued. Their father had taught French and Latin and now worked with computers. Robert had had problems getting a job when he first got out of college; he had received close to five hundred rejection letters. So he had joined the Peace Corps and liked it. Heíd been in Africa for two and a half or three years. Heíd written home once or twice a month.

"We never fought. Weíve always been

the best of friends," said Richard wistfully.

"He remained with us, but he was different after the Peace Corps. Heíd incorporated the culture of Mali. He also had taken a malaria drug, which had visual effects." Nothing more was said about the malaria or the drug. "He was open and friendly and closed at the same time."

Robert had worked at a bookstore but kept looking for something in his field, mechanical engineering. He had almost gotten a job at G.E., but theyíd chosen another person. "He wanted to get out of the house; he wanted to be independent. Basically, he told us, ĎItís my business, Iíll take care of myself.í The failure to get a job hit him hard," the brother said.

Robert himself then testified. I was surprised. This is not the usual occurrence. In most cases, the lawyer tries to keep the client off the stand lest he start talking about hearing voices through his dental fillings or something else that would keep him locked up. And the patient cannot be compelled to testify.

At first, Robert seemed innocent, almost naiveótoo relaxed, considering the possible consequences of his testifying. He sounded as if he accepted the reasonableness of the doctor who would have me keep him medicated and hospitalized in this place for the next six months. There didnít appear to be a lot of fight in him. But somehow, as he went on, the telling of his story made him strong.

He told us that he was twenty-nine and had last lived on Commonwealth Avenue in Allston. He had graduated from the Boston Latin School and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After college, he had interned near Washington, D.C., but couldnít find a job in his field. He had last worked as a designer of fire-protection systems for buildings but had recently gone on unemployment.

"I was shy," he said, laughing to himself. I was not sure what he meant. This little private revelation was disturbing, and the laugh after it was not helpful in explaining it. Perhaps "shy" was the word others used to describe him and his behavior, and perhaps the laugh indicated that he knew the problem went deeper than that.

He had entered the Peace Corps in February 1992 and been sent to Mali, where heíd taught English as a second language to seventh graders. "I liked it a lot," he said. He had also distributed eyeglasses to people in the area: "New Eyes for the Needy from New Jersey." Heíd been in the Peace Corps for two and a half years, after which heíd traveled to Morocco and then to Paris. At the end of his tour, he had had approximately fifteen hundred dollars saved up. His student loans had been deferred but still existed. Heíd looked for work at bookstores and considered teaching in city schools, but had held back the applications because he had found an engineering job. That had lasted only four months, however. Heíd decided to move out of his parentsí house because, after the Peace Corps, he was used to having independence.

"I didnít intend for things to work out this way. I needed some time for myself. I didnít give up, but I didnít accomplish much. I felt that I needed more time for myself," he said.

Regarding his behavior in the mental hospital, Robert said, "I preferred not to take psychological testing. Iíd never been in a hospital before. I canít be in isolation." As for his resistance to taking medications, he said, "I donít even take aspirin."

On cross-examination, when asked about the incident at the Arsenal Mall and the empty suitcase, he said he had been shopping. "I needed something to carry things in."

He was then asked about his meditating over the object from the art therapy class.

"It is a dream catcher, like a mandala.

It is Native American. It will catch good dreams and let bad ones pass through. I made it. Itís a hobby. Iíve been making them since I was a kid. I had to look at it to get ideas for the next dream catcher Iím going to make."

Mr. Lehane asked for a recess, and I needed one. When I returned, Robert was holding a blue jay feather in one hand and looking at an embossed leather disk about six inches in diameter on the table. I wondered where they came from but saw no harm in their being there. I hoped the attendants wouldnít take them from him.

Robert said, "Wow, they are beautiful."

The disk must have come from his brother, I thought. I recalled that Richard had been holding something like it all through his testimony. I hadnít seen the feather before. I assumed it was from the brother as well.

After we went back on the record, Mr. Lehane said, "We have an agreement, Judge. Weíd like to continue this matter for a month. Robert agrees to take the medication heís taking now, Risperdol, and the hospital will try to get him into another facility, a less restrictive facility."

"I agree," I said as sagely as I could, trying to mask my relief. "It seems like a wise decision."

On the walk back to the courthouse, I said to Ms. McKay, the clerk, who has been around the courts and these hearings much longer than I have, "That was a very kind thing for Richard to give Robert the disk and the blue jay feather."

"I gave him the feather," she replied. "They use feathers in dream catchers. My nephew makes them. I love birds. Iím a member of the Audubon Society. I pick up feathers wherever I go. I found two blue jay feathers this morning. After that hearing,

I figured he could use one. Iím glad he liked it so much.

"Was it O.K. to do that?" she asked, disingenuously. "Would you like the other one?"

"Yes, I would. Thank you."

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Story Source: Double Take Magazine

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mali; Mental Illness



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